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(Photo: Jason [far left] at the Ritz with Overkill guitarist Bobby Gustafson [dude with beard], circa 1990.)
A crusader for truth, or, as Karl Rove called him: “a nut with internet access”? Jason Leopold wanted to be a part of something, and that quest brought him through a labyrinthine world of decadent glam metal, dangerous mafioso, love, and investigative journalism challenging the heights of government and corporate power.
Jason Leopold is the senior investigative reporter for Vice and the author of News Junkie.
Sound design by Brendan Baker, with musical contributions from Sun Hammer, C Yantis, Gangpol und Mit, and Trans Atlantic Rage.
Additional help from Alexander Jerri, Lauren Whaley, Will Coley, Thandi Chimurenga, Kaitlin Prest, Audrey Quinn, and Chris–on loan from Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything.
Originally broadcast May 23, 2012.TRANSCRIPT
Jason Leopold – Investigative Reporter
It really did feel like walking into a club, and everyone was like, “Hey, Jason’s here!” It was… It was great! You know, it made me feel important, it made me feel euphoric, it made me feel… It made me feel confident. It made me feel that I was about to provide the public with information that they weren’t going to get anywhere else. That’s the feeling that I got after I broke a story. You know, when people talk about chasing a story, for me it was like chasing a high. I would go back to my computer, write a story after interviewing someone. Perhaps they were providing me with a document, and saying “Jason, no one has this. There is no one who has this, you are the first reporter that has it.” Wow. If you break a story, this is incredible. That feeling did feel like that first time I used cocaine.
I think I was 20 years old, really long hair, I had on the latest rock T-shirt, going to New York University, living in the Village, and I was working at a record label. Remember those? Record labels in the music industry? This was at the time where glam metal was at the top of the charts. Ratt, Poison, Mötley Crüe… That true decadent period. It was glamorous. The owner of the label had this incredible career in the music industry. He was, in my eyes, glamorous by who he knew, by what he was exposed to, the artists that he had mingled with, that he rubbed shoulders with, the bands that came through his office throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, White Snake, Robert Plant…
One night we were just up at the label, and he broke out some cocaine; he pulled it out of his pocket. I didn’t hesitate. I did a line of cocaine… The feeling that I had immediately afterwards was euphoric. All the insecurities that I had, the way I looked, the way I spoke… I could now become anyone. I now had confidence. I mean, it was really feeling like Clark Kent becoming Superman.
Hey, can we stop for just a second because my son’s waking up?
Hang on one sec.
Hi, Hill. Hill, this is Lauren, she’s recording me. Can you say hi?
Here’s some milk. Do you want to use this, buddy?
Okay, we’ll be over here, okay?
Where were we?
Oh, we were talking about what it feels like to, um… To do drugs.
Oh… My cocaine use escalated quite a bit. Instead of using on the weekends, it was using every other night. Got to the point where I would use every night. Got to the point where I would be up all night, and then it got to the point where, you know, “I need to buy some more cocaine.”
You’re not in school anymore at this point…?
I’m supposed to be in school, but I’m not. I had frequented this bar in the Village, it was called the Pit Stop. This was a bar that was right next door to a theater that’s featured in Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese. I remember, “Oh, I need to go into this bar because, look, it’s right next door to this theater.” There was a song playing, blasting out of the jukebox where I could hear it on the street. It was Rage Against the Machine – ‘Killing in the Name Of’. “Hey, let me check this out.”
It was the type of bar where you literally… It’s almost like you’re underground, where you walk downstairs and it’s as if you’re walking into a parking garage, or something. So I go into this bar, and the first thing I see is this New York license plate hanging up right by the bottles of liquor, and it said “Mafia”.
I was out in Los Angeles. I was working for a record label that handled soundtrack acquisitions, and we were attending some screenings for some movies. I was walking out of the screening, and there is a woman standing at the exit with just an enormous smile. She looked to me almost like Shannen Doherty from the 90210.
Which one was Shannen Doherty?
She was, was it Brenda? Yeah. I was taken by what I felt was some sort of innocence. I took her card and I smiled, and I said, “Thank you.” Her card said “Lisa Brown – Music Supervisor”. And I left.
I glamorized the mafia. This will probably sound odd, but what I truly loved about the mafia was that family-type dynamic that they had. They have your back. If anyone fucks with you, look out. You know, in Goodfellas, where you can walk into any club or restaurant, they would not just seat you at a table, they would bring out a table for you. They would go into the back, get a table, and put it right in front. And right there, I felt like I was kind of at home.
My idea of the mafia was the movies I had watched, that’s all I knew. I’m aware that these movies – people were killed… But even though I wasn’t an executive at a record company, I sort of put on an act and pretended I was, and befriended the owner of the bar, and I told him that, “Hey, I can get you some promotional CDs for the jukebox.” That was my way of being accepted, sort of buying my way in.
When you’re in a club and you start seeing people go back and forth into the bathroom, chances are they’re probably doing some sort of drug. I said, “Hey, what’s going on?” She said, “Do you want a bump?” and I said, “Yeah.” From that moment on, I was in this inner circle. I started to meet people associated with the Gambino crime family. It was like meeting celebrities.
For some reason I pulled her card out of my wallet and gave her a phone call. I called her up and I said, “Do you remember me?” [Yeah, of course I remember you.] She was working on an independent movie. I had given her the impression that, “Oh, perhaps we would be interested in releasing the soundtrack.”
And was that genuine, or was that like a move?
Not genuine whatsoever. I was in no position to make deals. We were talking every single night. I mean, all the time, and I felt like I was testing it more and more and more, divulging everything that was dark about my life. It was my past, it was growing up, it was my father being abusive. I started telling her about cocaine, except I told it to her in the past tense, as if I wasn’t still hooked on it. She was accepting of everything that I was disclosing. She was the exact opposite of me, exact opposite. So, she’s never been high, she’s never been drunk, she had parents who were very loving and supportive. She really, to me, embodied innocence.
Were you ever high when you were talking to her?
Yeah, I was. Totally high. I mean, I was addicted to cocaine, and I could not stop… I could not stop using cocaine.
The owner of the bar said he wanted to introduce me to a couple of guys. Bar owner’s name was Jeff; heavyset guy, truly walked like a penguin. He walked me down to this table in the back of the bar and there were these two beefy-looking Italian men sitting there. Lenny, built like a rock. Enormous. His arms like giant pieces of meat. Really overweight. One had a mohawk. Both dressed in Hawaiian shirts. Certainly did not fit the stereotypical image of what one would think of as a mafioso. They drove an Eldorado; incredibly friendly.
I felt immediately that I was sort of part of something. They basically just started to ask me what I did, and I told them that I interacted with musicians, with DJs, radio DJs. [Do they… Do these people party?] Of course they party, everybody does. You know, the conversation just segued into would I be willing to sell cocaine? [Yes, I would.] I didn’t even hesitate, I just said yes.
Here I am, some Jewish guy from Upstate New York… “I’m going to be a member of the mafia, yey! I’m gonna talk like these guys, too.” They did speak like that, by the way. There was a paper bag that they rolled up, it was like a burrito. They stuffed it down my pants. Lenny, the guy with the mohawk said, “Two grand of coke, right there.” That’s basically what I needed to sell.
The coke never made its way to anyone, really, for sale.
When did she say, “Jason, I think I love you”?
It was probably after about a week, a week and a half.
Oh, yeah… These were intense conversations. I couldn’t even visualize that meeting that we had, I couldn’t make out the features on her face. Yet I just… All I wanted to do was keep speaking with her on the phone. I felt that Lisa could save my life, could truly save me.
If you’re gonna sell coke, you can’t be also the type of person who does coke. [The coke never made its way to anyone, really, for sale.] I certainly did it with plenty of people. They knew that I wasn’t selling it. They were pissed.
How did they know?
They asked around. You know, I don’t think ‘scared’ begins to cut it. I actually thought these guys were going to kill me. When they asked me to pay them, they didn’t say, “Jason, can you please pay me?” They told me that if I didn’t have their money in a certain amount of time, I was going to get a – quote – bullet in the head. So I heard that loud and clear. The only way I could get $2,000 worth of cocaine was to take a bunch of promotional CDs – several hundred – and go down to one of the record stores on Bleecker Street and sell it.
Did anyone from your work ever be like, “Yo, Jason, what’s up with all these CDs? Like this is weird.”
Yes, yes. And I made up an excuse…[Well, I’m gonna meet John from WPLJ Radio tonight, and he needs this for, you know, some promotion that he wants to put together for, you know, something that we’re working on.]
Excuse, after excuse, after excuse… I didn’t know what the end game was. I knew there was going to be an end game, but I didn’t know what it was.
So I’m in L.A. and I’m spending a couple of weeks here on vacation. I’m with Lisa, and I received a call from Toby, the head of Milan. He said, “Jason, I’ve got really bad news for you. We’re gonna have to let you go.” The reason he gave me was that I was screwing up the promotion on this album, and there’s no question I screwed it up. He spoke to me as if he were my father, and I started crying on the phone. What went through my mind was that I really disappointed this guy. Nothing to do with the fact that I was involved in the theft of compact discs from the record label. Not the fact that my world was starting to come crashing down. He basically told me, “Why don’t you spend another couple of weeks out in Los Angeles and just enjoy yourself?” And when I come back to New York I can clean out my office. So that’s what I did.
I spent another couple of weeks out in Los Angeles and I asked Lisa to marry me. She said yes. We’d only known each other for about three weeks. There was this whole other life I was living that Lisa didn’t know about; this life of crime, drugs, decadence. I eventually went back to New York and made plans to permanently move to California.
You know, I’m not actually sure if I got the phone call or if I made the phone call, but anyway, it was to a former colleague. She says, “I know you’re leaving town and you’re moving… Why don’t you come down to a bar called Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar? I wanna have a going away party, we’ll have some drinks…” and I said, “Great.” As I’m going to the city, I was thinking “I wanna get one last bag of cocaine.” I wasn’t sure if I should do that first, or if I should do that last. A person was giving me a ride, dropped me off Uptown. The bar was really close by, so instead of going downtown to score the coke, I went to the bar first.
I went into the bar and walked toward the back. Stood up and looked around, I didn’t see anyone and I was just wondering, “Where are they? I can’t see anyone.” I suddenly felt this really sharp tap on my shoulder, like where the nail of the index finger went right into my shoulder. It hurt. “NYPD detective. Turn around, hands behind your back.” I felt my heart went into my throat. I had no idea what was happening, and I turned around and walked out of the bar. The bar was packed, and I just couldn’t see anyone’s faces, it was…
I’m telling you this story right now, and as I’m telling it it’s like that lump is right back in my throat… I mean, this was 16 years ago and yet it feels like yesterday.
Do you feel like the more you retell the story, that helps you sort of react in a sort of a non-emotional way, or do you feel like you’re kind of stuck into reliving it every time that you retell it?
Yes, um… I really want to escape from it, and I feel the only way I can tell it is to relive it, which is for me unfortunate, because it’s a traumatic point in my life.
Yes… Well, part of the reason that I ask, and I don’t want to get too much into sort of over-psychologizing things, but… My dad, he’s a psychiatrist, he works a lot in post-traumatic stress disorder, and there is a way that he views people who have PTSD, it’s that they do get stuck in a sort of like emotional response to whatever event occurs… [voice fades out]
…clean and sober. You moved past it in a real way, but in an emotional way – just hearing that emotion in your voice – you haven’t totally moved past it.
No, I haven’t and… Yeah, I definitely have not. Nick, can you hang on one sec?
Yes, of course.
You know what, hang on one sec, I just have to run to the restroom.
Yeah, of course.
I’m really, really sorry. I’m… I don’t know if it’s talking about this, if this is flu, but I’m not feeling great.
Well, do you want to reschedule? We can do something else, I don’t wanna…
Would that be too much… Would that be okay?
Yeah, yeah. I mean…
You were set up by one of your colleagues.
It was a total setup. The whole… It was a setup. I remember the handcuffs being slapped on my wrist, I remember how cold it felt, but I don’t remember the ride to the police station. I was truly grateful I did not have any drugs on me. They brought me down to what’s called The Tombs. When you get arrested in New York, and you’re waiting for raiment, it’s literally like, underground, and it’s dark, it’s just a giant holding area. My one phone call that I had – it wasn’t to my parents, it wasn’t to a lawyer… This was going to be my phone call to Lisa, to say goodbye to Lisa, and then I was going to figure out how to kill myself… How to get out of jail and just kill myself. This is it.
The first time I tried to commit suicide I think I was 13. I do remember hearing that people would slit their wrists, so I went into the bathroom, took a razor blade and just literally sliced open my wrist. I remember watching my flesh separating. I could see inside my wrist… Suddenly I saw this sort of like a tidal wave, where the blood just started to come out of both sides of my wrist, it just started flowing out. And I did it again, and then I did it again… And again. Unfortunately, I slit it on the opposite side. It wasn’t on the side where you’re supposed to cut a vein, because I didn’t understand [Laughs].
I simply just went back into my room, back into my bed and just laid there, and then in the morning I went to my parents and said, “Look what happened. I don’t know how this happened.” When I finally came clean, and told my parents that this is what I was trying to do, we were in the kitchen and I said, “I tried to commit suicide.” And my father went into the drawer and got a knife, gave it to me, and told me which side I should have cut my wrist on.
I call Lisa, and she picks up the phone. She said, “Jason, we’re helping you. My father is helping you, we’re gonna get you out.” Her father is a lawyer. I couldn’t believe that this woman who barely knew me was helping me. I said, “You still want to be with me?” and she said, “Yes. I love you.” I was arraigned, pled not guilty, the judge said, “Don’t leave town”, and I immediately that night got on a plane and went to Los Angeles with a duffle bag. I was thinking that I could find a job at a record label. The news traveled that I was arrested, being prosecuted for grand theft, for stealing all these CDs, so my work in the music business was coming to an end. That’s when I started looking at my fallback career, which was journalism.
I always had a love for newspapers. I loved the way newspapers felt, I loved the way they smelled… I got on the phone and I called every newspaper. I told everyone that I had graduated college. I did not graduate college. In my mind, I felt like I did, I felt like I deserved to, but I didn’t. I got a call back from this newspaper in Whittier, California. The managing editor said, “You called every single person at the newspaper. You’re pretty aggressive, aren’t you? Because that’s what we need in a reporter.” They gave me the job of cops and courts reporter, as I’m being prosecuted. From there, I just started climbing up the ladder. I tell you, and when I got my first byline in the newspaper… Wow. My name is in the newspaper. This is my byline in the newspaper, I wrote this story.
It wasn’t in the front of my mind that I was performing a valuable service for the public by informing them. The front of my mind was, “Wow, look at this reaction I’m getting from this story.” The role of a journalist, it’s a powerful job and it is being in a position of power. You could really make/break someone’s career, you could also destroy a person. You have to be really, really careful. The pen can be like a gun. In his book, Karl Rove refers to me as “a nut with internet access.”
My lawyer in New York said, “Jason, they’re offering us a deal. Plead guilty to this felony. You don’t have to do any jail time, you’ll be on probation for five years, and you can get on with your life. Don’t you want to be with Lisa, get married?” And so I took the deal.
How did your lawyer get that for you? That just seems like so fucking lucky…
Look, I didn’t have any previous convictions, I paid restitution… But look, I plead guilty to a felony. That’s a big deal. I am a convicted felon.
I had already accepted the deal, Lisa and I were already married, and I started using drugs again. Physically, I felt like I needed to have cocaine, and I started using it behind her back. I owed people money.
Who did you owe money to?
Oh, I owed money to these mafia figures. I became incredibly paranoid. The paranoia just took over, and when I would lie down at night I felt like literally there were rats crawling all over my body. I would just jump around and move the blanket and scream because I thought that these rats were crawling all over me. Lisa thought I was losing it, she thought I was going insane. I really exposed her to such an ugly side of life.
She went to see a therapist to talk about it. The therapist said, “Your husband’s on drugs.” Clearly. Perhaps she knew it, but she was in such denial… And here we were, we were married. Together we went to couples therapy, and Lisa said, “Jason, I know you’ve been doing drugs. Everyone in my family knows it, and if you don’t get any help we can’t be together anymore. “What are you talking about? I’m not on drugs, I can’t believe this! I’m outta here!” And I walked out… Walked out of the therapist’s office. Lisa started crying. As I left the therapist’s office… “I gotta figure out now how to get out of California and start all over again.” That was my first thought, and I just started walking to my in-laws’ house. I rang the doorbell, and my mother-in-law answered the door, and I just said, “Help me. Please, help me.” Next thing I know, Lisa’s aunt and her mother-in-law were driving me to rehab.
My mother-in-law and Lisa’s aunt are in the intake office. The intake counselor is going through all these questions with me. “How much coke did you do last night?” “Oh, I think I did a gram.” “And how much alcohol did you drink?” You know, I answer that question. “Do you smoke?” “Jeez, I don’t smoke. Smoking’s terrible!” They looked at me like, “Jason, we know you smoke. Stop it already, stop lying.” And I stayed there for about a month. That was 14 years ago, and I’ve been sober ever since.
You know, I got a job at the L.A Times right after I got out of rehab. Their office was across the street from the courthouse, where I had to go and report to my probation officer. So I went to report at my probation officer, and then I went to interview at the Los Angeles Times. And I got the job.
What happened at the L.A. Times? There was like an incident, right?
I did well at the L.A. Times. Worked my way up the ladder, promoted to city editor. It was my first entry into the real world of what a newsroom was like. I expected people digging into their desk drawers and secretly taking swigs of whiskey, smoking like chimneys, yelling over each other, cursing left and right… It was nothing like that.
What was it like?
It was sanitized, it was completely sanitized. People were very nice, there wasn’t any yelling, and it was conservative. It was kind of a let-down. The reporters that I was in charge of, they were green, right out of college. I was a terrible boss. I sort of took on a role, I portrayed this character, this grumpy newspaper character who was yelling, sort of like a Lou Grant, slamming doors, saying horrible things to the reporters when they turned in their copy, like “This is garbage! Did somebody drop you on your head when you were born? What’s wrong with you?” I was a real asshole. I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I wasn’t taught how to put a lede together, what a nut graph is… I think that it was a defense mechanism.
There was another city editor I worked with, who brought her kids in to work, and I just thought that that was just unbelievable. She would do this every single day. I protested enough to the point where the editor – my editor – allowed the woman to work at home. That made me even more angry.
One day I had music on in the newsroom. I received a note on my computer from the woman who I used to work with, who said I needed to turn down my music. I said, “Well, how can you hear my music? You’re at home.” And she said, “Well, one of the reporters just sent me a note saying your music is distracting him.” You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. I stood up and I said, “Who the fuck just sent Denine a note saying my music is too loud? Who is the fucking pussy that couldn’t tell me my music was too loud?” And this little kid, really little kid stands up and said, “It was me!” and I said, “You motherfucker! I’ll rip your fucking head off!” He says to me, “Let’s go outside!” We never made it outside.
I was the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, [laughs] the local Los Angeles chapter. The next thing you know, I’m driving to Las Vegas, because we have a convention. I’d just finished bawling out this reporter. I get a phone call from my editor. This is a guy who I wasn’t just employee/employer relationship; we were friends. He said, “Jason, I’ve got bad news for you. David, who raised the complaint, he went to Human Resources. I’ve got no choice, I’ve gotta suspend you.” This lump… This huge, huge lump got stuck in my throat. People at this convention saw me turn ghost white, and I hightailed it out of there and just went home.
A couple of days later I get called in, and they said that “We have to let you go. We have to fire you.” I just lost it and I started crying. I was trying to rebuild my life, and it all came crashing down. I was clean and sober, in terms of the fact that I was not using drugs or alcohol, but I was not clean and sober in my mind, in my head. I was still a rage-aholic, I was still that addict. But, you know, I got into my car and I left that parking lot, and I checked my voice mail, and there was a message from a woman from Dow Jones Newswires. She got my resume, and she said, “Give me a call, I’d like to talk to you about a job.”
That was the very same day…
Very same day.
It was incredible. It led me into this whole other world of reporting and investigative journalism.
Do you feel like getting the Dow Jones job so soon after kept you from learning a lesson from the L.A. Times experience?
Yeah, I don’t think that… You know, it was as if I felt like I was the victim, that there really was no lesson to learn.
When did you feel like you did learn that lesson?
You know, I would say I feel like the lesson was finally learned after I reported this story on Karl Rove. I spent about three years covering the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative who was working on classified programs for the CIA, involving weapons of mass destruction.[The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.] [Sixteen words that the White House now admits were not true, but the administration continued to make the claim, and ambassador Wilson went public.]
She was married to a former U.S. ambassador named Joe Wilson who wrote an op-ed in the New York Times accusing essentially the Bush administration of lying about Iraq’s interest in acquiring uranium to make an atomic bomb.[That information was erroneous, and they knew about it…]
After the publication of this op-ed…[…someone in the White House intentionally revealed the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame.]
Various individuals in the Bush administration leaked Valerie Plame’s identity…[Valerie Plame was, in fact, a covert operative for the CIA.]
And it was seen as a way to sort of get back at Joe Wilson. Her identity was classified and protected. Valerie Plame obviously was unable to work after that, and it became a huge scandal.[…including a reporter going to jail and questions as to the role of presidential strategist Karl Rove, and vice president Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter”…Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate whether someone in the White House…]
What I was doing as a journalist was trying to find out who was responsible for the leak, and so I had cultivated some amazing sources. I tried to get an understanding of who this person is that I’m about to speak to, what their politics are, what their ideology is, and speak to that a bit; so there was a bit of manipulation involved, which is not a secret, every reporter sort of does that. You have to convince them that what you represent is the greater good. And I’m passionate about it, I mean, I really was passionate about the fact that what happened here was retaliation, it’s unfair. There’s a greater good here, we need to get the truth out. I was publishing stories that were groundbreaking; anyone can look into the archives and see that. I wrote the very first story that showed that vice president Dick Cheney played a role in the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. I was chasing this high. More and more scoops.[Now Karl Rove had no comment as he went into a federal court this morning…Rove’s in the hot seat, as political junkies wait to see if his trademark game of plausible deniability will keep him out of the dock.]
Everyone was after Karl Rove.[He just might wind up indicted.]
Everyone wanted to know what did Karl Rove know, when did he know it, what was his involvement.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I was driving Lisa to pick up her car. I get a phone call from one of my sources, Jason. “It’s Jason. I’ve got some news for you. You ready?” Yes. “Karl Rove was indicted last night.” I literally pulled the car over. I said, “What?! Holy shit!” You know, Lisa had no idea what was going on, she says, “What’s going on, what’s going on?” and I said, “Shh, shh…” My source says, “Give me a call in 20 minutes and I’ll give you everything.” I got off the phone, I said, “Lisa, this is huge. It’s a huge story”, and she saw that I was becoming sort of like manic about this. I said, “Lisa, this is huge news. Karl Rove just got indicted. I gotta drop you off and I gotta go home, and I need to write this story.” So I dropped her off, I get back on the phone… My source starts going into detail, basically stating that last night – meaning Friday – there was a meeting, Patrick Fitzgerald showed up – he was a special prosecutor – with an indictment. He has, quote, 24 business hours – I had never heard that before – to get his affairs in order. So I started… You know, I made a couple other phone calls to two other sources, and they heard it also. They heard that this happened, that Karl Rove was indicted secretly. I called up the spokesperson for Patrick Fitzgerald. Now, it was a Saturday, I knew the spokesperson wasn’t going to get the message, but I left him a message and I didn’t hear back. And I put a story together. I got the goods, I am going to break the biggest story ever. Right then.
And… 12 hours goes by, nobody’s following up. And… 24 hours goes by, and oh, shit, nobody is taking it on. No one. That story ended a month later with Patrick Fitzgerald handing Karl Rove’s attorney some sort of a letter that cleared him. I got wrong information, and I reported it. I reported it as if it were a fact, instead of saying there’s a rumor going on out there, we can’t verify this, don’t know if it’s true.
You have to understand that this story came out right at the time that my book came out. Why that’s important is that my book, News Junkie, is a memoir, and it’s a memoir in which I reveal all these deep, dark secrets. I lied, I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, I have a felony conviction… The timing sucked. It really sucked. The Right Wing wanted to hang me; I might as well just have wrapped it in a little bow for them. And then the Left attacked me, as well. Any credibility I had was absolutely gone, it was out the window. I no longer had it, I no longer possessed it. It was like just standing stark naked in front of the world.
I’m trying to go back to that time, it’s like, “What the fuck was I thinking?” Not only was the phone call on a Saturday… Why didn’t I just put a question mark at the end of Karl Rove being indicted? I mean, that changed everything for me.
Why do you think you’ve been able to move past it, despite still having this intense emotional reaction to it?
I think that I’ve been able to disconnect from it. So, it’s sort of like, I’ve maybe gone into denial, maybe I’ve numbed myself out.
Do you think there’s a danger when you disconnect from it in that way?
No, because I can still talk about it, and I do talk about it. I don’t feel that I’m in danger of repeating the mistakes I’ve made in the past.
And why is that?
Well… I’m tired, I don’t have the energy to do that anymore. I move slower now. My goal is to really be a good father and set a good example for my son, to continue to be a good husband. I want to document history and I just want to make up for the past, the mistakes that I made. And that means waiting. Waiting. And that means – guess what? Somebody else is going to break the story.
Last year I had been handed a story about some changes in procedures over at Guantanamo, and I called the spokesperson at Joint Task Force Guantanamo for a comment. And I didn’t receive a comment, and I kind of just waited on it. About a week or so later the Associated Press comes out with a story. I can tell you, it really pissed me off, because I would have had a scoop. But you know what? I did have something else to offer. I had some of the more intimate details of this new policy and why it was being implemented. But I will tell you that seeing that scoop, and knowing that I had it, I did clench my teeth. I was really annoyed. I may have hit the wall, with my fist [laughs].
You know, I have to ask myself, like what’s the point, really? What’s the point of just breaking the news to break it?
Why did you stay in the game?
It’s a great question, you know? Because I cover things now that not many people read about. I didn’t want to let the people who wanted me out – I didn’t want to let them win. I had a lot more good to offer the public. On Enron, I broke a very big story about Enron’s phony trading floor. I wrote a story recently about a former Guantanamo official who was drummed out of the army reserves because he talked to me about Guantanamo. I broke a number of stories about the manipulative tactics energy companies were pulling. I landed the very first interview with Jeff Skilling, the former CEO of Enron, who’s currently in jail.
I think that the good work that I’ve done outweighs the most memorable mistakes. Over the past couple of months, since we’ve been talking, I really feel badly for what I did to the people who supported me, who helped me, who gave me a chance. I think I did a great job of portraying myself as an asshole. I fucked over a lot of people. So it’s haunting, it haunts me… I don’t know how else to describe it. I mean, look, I’m not trying to convince you, I’m just trying to say what it’s like. So are you satisfied? Do you feel like, you know… Do I come off like an asshole? I hope not.
Hopefully not in the end, but only for parts of it.
Okay. Okay, good. I can deal with that.
* * *
How did things end with the mafia? Were you ever afraid that they were going to come after you?
Nothing ever happened. I don’t know if I was just being too paranoid, or if they were just trying to scare the shit out of me, or what. You know, one thing I’ll say about my mom is that my mom was very good at paying my debts without letting anyone know, without letting my father know. And I don’t know if she ever did that, and it’s something that I’ve thought about.
Nick van der Kolk, Host, Director & Producer
Brendan Baker, Producer
Sarah Lu, Producer